Sunday, October 9, 2011


HEAD'S UP:  Don't know why these last two posts didn't show up.  I know I posted them, but in any event, if they seem dated, they are by a few weeks. 

One of my oldest friends (more than thirty five years now) also lives in Portland.  Jean-Francois and I have been through quite a lot together and one of the reasons I love the city so much is that I got to reconnect on a regular basis with my old friend.  Summer means travel and he and his partner, Jay, just got back from a long and extended stay in France, Italy and Belgium.  Jean-Francois retired as head of Portland's French-American school a few years ago, but he keeps busy as a consultant to a number of schools from Italy to Houston and Virginia Beach.  I snagged him for a free night at home and we had dinner on Saturday night--I did the cooking.  Dinner included a pork loin braised in milk--a recipe I've been doing from Marcella Hazan's THE CLASSIC ITALIAN COOKBOOK for some thirty years now.  It's always a a hit.  You gently braise a lean loin of pork in whole milk for a few years until its tender. Meanwhile, the milk has reduced to these glorious nut-brown curds in the pan.  You skim off the fat, add a tablespoon or so of hot water, reducing the curds and creating a sauce. You then pour it over the sliced meat and serve.  It's an amazing dish.  I forgot to take to prepare my roasted potatoes, and instead, ran for the freezer and Trader Joe's excellent Tater Tots.  I added a big mixed salad, and sauteed zucchini with scallions, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and showered it with a chiffonade of basil leaves.  For dessert we had a gallette of pears with orange zest and vanilla.  

My hydrangeas have turned colors.  The big, showy round ones are green with a blush of pink and the spear-shaped flowers have taken on a reddish color (they were pure white in July).  I wanted to capture their fall beauty and created this nice arrangement for the table.  

John Baker brought a selection of cut flowers with gorgeous jewel colors and felt like fall from Zupans, his local high end grocer, which has a fine florist on the premises.  The result was to spectacular arrangements that feel like fall. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Rita and me on the balcony of her apartment in San Francisco with a drop-dead view of the city.

I went to San Francisco last week to attend the reception of my good friend, Terri Stuart, who married her long-time partner, Martin, in August.  The reception was held in Napa last Sunday, and it was a great excuse to take a long overdue break, see my hometown and get caught up with friends and family.  This was not a trip for restaurant hopping--the four days were stuffed with family and friends.

Lonnie and me on Rita & Riccardo's balcony overlooking San Francisco.  Lonnie is my longest friendship.  
We bicker and insult each other, as old friends do.  Can't imagine life without him. 

I arrived three hours later and immediately picked up a rental car and drove to my twin brother's home in Foster City.  Keep in mind that I've been driving less than two months, and the pace on California highways is much faster than in Portland.  I got there in one piece. Herz gave me a very nice pale blue Nissan Versa, a car I had seriously considered buying.  I had a nice visit with my brother Scott and his girlfriend, Bernadette, who cooked a wonderful dinner, before heading into the city for Lonnie's apartment.  Lonnie and I have been close friends for forty years.  We argue like cats and dogs--maybe that's what happens with old friends.  Still, I can't imagine visiting the city and not staying with him.  Lonnie lives in the inner-Richmond district right along side Golden Gate Park, which was hosting a huge bluegrass music festival with lots of known and lesser-known musical acts all performing over a three-day event for free.  It kept traffic near the park snarled up for the entire weekend.  Thank god I had a parking spot because San Francisco is one of the most miserable cities to drive in and parking is an even bigger nightmare.

On Saturday, Lonnie and I had brunch with Rita and Riccardo Fabi, friends from New York.  Rita works for Facebook, which is why they are now living in San Francisco.  Their very nice apartment is on top of a hill in Noe Valley a block and a half from where I lived during my junior high school days!  The one bedroom apartment boasts one of the most gorgeous panoramic views of the city I've ever seen. The photo above cannot capture the dimensional width of this view.  This is why people pay high rents, live with the ever-present threat of an earthquake, and abide the cramped space of a small city.  The only really tall buildings are downtown in the shopping, financial and South of Market districts.  Riccardo has just joined an on-line firm, so the Fabis are living large and happy in this beautiful city.

Saturday night we drove to San Rafael in the heart of Marin for dinner with my baby brother, Kevin and his wife Diane.  They are also in good shape, having recently climbed out of a tough economic period. Kevin has been selling industrial tools for over 30 years, and business has been terrible of late.  But it has improved, they got a tax windfall and Diane is working steadily, which has taken the pressure off.  So it was a relaxed evening we shared at the Seafood Peddler,  a large, family style restaurant with okay food.  It was the company that was important.  While I have had difficult times with my other two brothers, Kevin and I never seem to have any serious issues.  Our interests are poles apart--he is an avid fisherman, loves watching TV and never cracks a book.  But we've always gotten along just fine.

On Sunday morning on our way to Napa, we stopped in Mill Valley for a visit with Joan and Fritz Hottenstein and their gorgeous daughters, Lily and Quinn.  They have been doing a lot of renovating of their 20s-style home, with new a new deck, expansion of a small room downstairs as well as some improvements in their living room (a updated fireplace) and kitchen (a built-in bench and moving some window openings around for safety).  Joan and I were colleagues in my last corporate publishing job and she's like a kid sister to me.  She's married to a wonderful man and their daughters keep us endlessly amused--particularly Quinn, whom we all liken to a hurricane, so intense is her personality and non-stop energy.

In Napa, Terri, whose husband is German, created an Oktoberfest reception in her brother's back yard. Terri greeted us in a dirndl and we entered into the back yard where tents were set up with tables for guests. There was a small group of musicians playing music.  Opera is Terri and Martin's passion, and the Wagner Society was there to perform an amusing musical number in tribute to the couple, manned no less by Marie Plette--a wonderful American soprano, who is a friend of Terri's.  There was beer and house-made Pinot Noir and Syrah, from Terri's brother's vineyards. There were four types of beer, and a German style lunch of grilled sausages, braised red cabbages, spaetzel, potato salad, and pickles.  Terri and her sisters also baked large sheets of cakes with fruit and almonds. It was a lovely way to celebrate this happy event.

On Monday I enjoyed a leisurely morning, packing for the return trip, and stopping off to have a late lunch with Bernadette before heading to the airport.  As with our arrival, weather and air traffic delayed our departure. We reached Portland at about 9:15 PM, and it was raining here (had been since Saturday).

My friend, Sara, hosted Beau over the weekend and brought him up to her mother's country home.  
You can see Beau's working on buttering up Sara, who is not at all immune to his charms.
 He thinks he is a baby.  Below he is posing--the shameless little ham! 

I found myself enjoying myself in San Francisco for the first time in a long while.  I've visited there regularly over the years, but the city is so changed from my youth.  It's far more crowded, expensive, and seems much more like a big Eastern city rather than the West Coast jewel I once thought it to be.  Maybe it is because I find myself drawn to the more leisurely and less flashier pace of Portland, which often reminds me of the San Francisco of my youth.

I'll always enjoy spending time with Lonnie and it was fun to work his nerves as I tried to navigate the traffic there.

Pioneer Square on Thursday, October 6 late afternoon in downtown Portland

Portland police keeping order.  The march was non-violent and well-organized.  There were no arrests. 

I'm following the increasing coverage of young protesters in cities all around the country, demonstrating against the greed of the banks, making their voices heard.  In Portland's Pioneer Square, an elbow-to-elbow packed crowd (that can hold up to 10,000 people) gathered on Thursday. It was peaceful and well-organized.  In New York on Wall Street, the establishment is becoming alarmed.  Mayor Bloomberg, who has ruined all the good will he built up during his first two terms in office, has squandered it first with his inept handling of the snow clean-up during last winter's storms. Now he continues his slide over remarks he has made, saying the protesters should be working with corporations to give them the confidence to hire.  Absurd.  Corporations no longer give a crap about their employees or creating jobs. They exist, according to Bill Clinton, to please their investors and their top management who earn the lion's share of profits, while the workers who keep things humming, are paid far less and given fewer benefits. Mr. Bloomberg, who has made an obscene fortune in business is merely trying to protect his big nest egg. Now Eric Cantor, Majority Leader of the House of Representatives and the #2 ranking Republican there, is calling the protesters "mobs" and in what Jonathan Capeheart of the Washington Post describes as "breathtaking hypocrisy," bemoans the fact that Americans are attacking Americans.  Calling legitimate protesters a "mob" is typical Repug-speak.  It turns around the original intention on itself, and ends up blaming the victims. Repugs are famous for this tactic.  They have effectively demonized unions (who have now thrown their support behind the protesters), teachers, civil servants, municipal workers, and so-called "greedy" retiring baby boomers with the help of the media.  But that is now changing.  People realize the oligarchic nature of the Republican party. They understand that Republicans want all the wealth.  They understand the Republican agenda of destroying America's middle class.  This young group of protesters feels they have nothing to lose.  They have been told there will be no Social Security for them.  They have been told there will be no Medicare.  They already know there are no jobs.  And they are fed up with the partisan warfare going on in do-nothing-Washington.  I'm thrilled they are demanding to be heard and urge everyone to support them.  It's time to clean house once and for all.

A particularly eloquent protester with her father. 

My fall garden.  My cherry tomatoes are ripening as we near the mid-October mark.  Rains this week delayed things, but every day I get a bowl-full like this--sweet and tart at the same time. 

For the past several weeks, this is my daily haul of cherry tomatoes from my vegetable garden.  

My New Guinea Impatience has suffered through a hot August.  I didn't realize they don't like a lot of sun, and to fix this, I put the grill right in front of them, blocking the sunlight. It worked like a charm.  They have been blooming their heads off for weeks now. 

A big shout-out to my favorite diva--Christine Goerke, who is having the triumph of her career in the title role of Richard Strauss' emotionally wrenching and vocally fierce music drama, ELEKTRA.  Nearing the peak of her vocal and acting skills, Christine has was it takes to become the greatest dramatic soprano of her generation.  In the future are Brunnhilde (especially in Houston where she will be the centerpiece of the company's first staged Ring Cycle), the Dyer's Wife in Strauss's DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN at the Met and other international opera houses, more Elektras, Leonores in FIDELIO, and many other opera house challenges.  In a widely circulated syndicated review from the Associated Press, music critic, Mike Silverman was full of effusive praise:

"The Teatro Real of Madrid is offering that opportunity right now with its production of Richard Strauss's one-act tragedy "Elektra," starring the American soprano Christine Goerke in one of the most daunting roles ever written.
Goerke, heard at her third performance of the run on Thursday night, is simply thrilling as the vengeance-obsessed daughter of the slain Agamemnon and his murderous wife, Klytemnestra.
Her supple voice combines a warm, velvety lower and middle register with a shining top that rises easily to high C. Her sound, while not huge, has no difficulty penetrating the 110-piece orchestra - an ensemble so big the theater had to remove the first two rows of seats for this production.
Above all, Goerke brings a vocal bloom to the role that few sopranos today could match. That quality paid off especially in the gorgeous music that follows her recognition of her long-lost brother Orest, a passage she sings with melting tenderness, complete with ravishing, soft high notes.
Her acting, which seemed slightly self-conscious at first, gained strength through the nearly two-hour-long performance until she became completely absorbed in the conflicting emotions of rage, despair and, finally, frenzied jubilation that ends in her death.
Goerke, who is alternating with veteran Elektra Deborah Polaski in the Madrid production that runs through Oct. 15, has been moving gradually into dramatic soprano territory. She has previously sung the lighter role of Elektra's sister, Chrysothemis, in this opera, and has also performed in operas by Mozart, Handel and Gluck.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether she will be able to preserve her freshness after repeated performances, or whether she will develop the worn, strident top one often hears in other Elektras. Much is riding on it, for Goerke has plans to add some other famously difficult roles in coming years, including the Dyer's Wife in Strauss's "Die Frau ohne Schatten" and Bruennhilde in Wagner's "Ring" cycle."

Christine Goerke